How to Plant and Care for Bulbs in Your Lawn

Purple crocus blooming

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Planting bulbs in your lawn is a great way to ensure a beautiful display of spring color that looks informal and spontaneous. While planting the bulbs is easy, there are a few factors to consider when planning and caring for bulbs planted in a lawn. Follow these tips to have healthy and successful flowers.

Choosing Bulbs to Plant

It's important to remember that you'll need to maintain both the flowers and the lawn. This can be a bit tricky unless you select bulbs based on these recommendations:

  • Early risers: Select bulbs that germinate and bloom in the very early spring, so they will be done blooming with their leaves starting to fade once it's time to begin mowing the lawn.
  • Perennials: Choose bulbs that will live and spread for many years, so you won't have to plant new ones every fall. Look for the words "naturalize" or "perennialize" in their description.
  • Small bulbs: This is one time you don’t need the biggest, most expensive bulb. A swath of small bulbs will put on a good show and will have time to mature and spread in your lawn.

While you can experiment with any early blooming bulb, these varieties are most likely to combine beauty and convenience in your lawn:

Moreover, many garden catalogs now list bulbs specifically for naturalizing.

Where to Plant Bulbs

Don’t plant bulbs in unhealthy lawns or lawns that require and/or receive a lot of maintenance. In a poor site, the bulbs won’t be able to compete with the grass for limited nutrients and water. Plus, in a highly maintained lawn, the excessive nitrogen fertilizer and water, along with the use of weed killers or pesticides, are not good conditions for dormant bulbs.

Bulbs will do best in lawns that can provide similar conditions as flower beds. They include:

  • Good drainage (as dormant bulbs in wet soil will rot)
  • Fertile soil with organic matter
  • Limited soil compaction
  • Six or more hours of sunlight on most days (especially in the spring while the bulbs are growing and blooming)
  • About 1 inch of water per week
  • Limited foot traffic

How to Plant Bulbs

Planting in a lawn is different from planting in a garden bed. These tips will help you ensure the health of both the bulbs and your grass:

  • Bulbs can be planted in a lawn closer than you would space them in a garden bed, but they should be planted a bit deeper. Generally, plant them four times the height of the bulbs. For example, a 1-inch bulb should be planted 4 inches deep.
  • If you're planting a large number of bulbs, it's easier to slice into the lawn as if you were lifting sod rather than digging separate holes. Roll the sod out of the way, place the bulbs, and roll the sod back in place.
  • Apply bulb fertilizer per package directions. You can add it to each individual planting hole, though it is much easier to simply broadcast the fertilizer over the planting area.
  • To make your bulbs look like they spread naturally, grab a handful and let them drop from about waist height. Plant them where they land.

Bulb Care

After the bulbs are planted, you'll have to care for them at the same time that you tend to the lawn. Here are some basic care tips:

  • Water your bulbs regularly after planting.
  • Even if you fertilize your lawn with a turf fertilizer, supplement the bulb area with a bulb fertilizer. Lawn fertilizers are high in nitrogen, which is great for leaves, but the bulbs will need more phosphorous and potassium to grow well and bloom again.
  • Don't deadhead the spent flowers in the spring after blooming. Bulbs labeled as good naturalizers can generally take care of themselves.

Mowing can be tricky, especially if you happen to have a wet spring and a lush lawn. Even if the flowers stand only a few inches high, the foliage that persists will often shoot up several inches after flowering. To keep your bulbs thriving, you need to allow the foliage to yellow and begin to die back before mowing. This usually takes up to a month for small bulbs.

Some bulbs will send up a second flush of growth in the fall. Again, you should allow this growth to die back naturally before mowing if you want the bulbs to store enough energy to bloom again the next spring. For the last mowing in the fall, set the mower on its lowest setting. This will buy you a week or two before you need to mow again in the spring, and it will allow more sun and heat to reach the bulbs.